Friday, May 24, 2024

Former PBS Producer Alleges Termination from Al Roker Cartoon Over DEI Policy Dispute

Al Roker - Getty
Al Roker – Getty

*An ex-PBS producer alleges he was terminated from Al Roker’s cartoon series after raising concerns that the show failed to uphold its DEI policy.

According to TheWrap, William “Bill” Schultz, a television producer, initiated legal action against Al Roker, his entertainment company, and executive producer Lisa Tucker. Schultz was allegedly terminated for opposing the “denigration” of the network’s DEI policy program. The initiative aimed to incorporate BIPOC writers into Roker’s forthcoming animated children’s series “Weather Hunters.”

“Weather Hunters has been a labor of love and a passion project for more than a decade and I cannot think of a better partner than PBS Kids to make this dream come true,” Roker said in a 2023 statement.  “When it comes to ‘Weather Hunters,’ I predict increasing animation with downpours of family-friendly storytelling and a rising understanding of weather and climate on your local PBS station, pbskids.org, and the PBS Kids Video and Games apps.”

In the legal complaint,  Schultz alleges he “was wrongfully and illegally targeted, leading to the illegal termination of an agreement that he had with Defendant WHI and its alter ego Al Roker Entertainment in retaliation for Plaintiff standing tall as a whistle blower and complaining of: illegal racial bias and discrimination against African Americans and other Black, indigenous and other people of color (‘BIPOC’ people) in the workplace and for objecting to the denigration and wholesale deconstruction of a diversity, equity and inclusion (‘DEI’) program intended to bring minority writers onto a PBS television production.”

Schultz further stated that Al Roker Entertainment executives ignored the DEI requirements and objectives by assigning scripts to BIPOC writers that non-BIPOC writers had already written.

Al Roker
Weatherman Al Roker speaks onstage during the Team USA WinterFest Presented by Hershey’s on February 19, 2018 in Seoul, South Korea. (Feb. 18, 2018 – Source: Joe Scarnici/Getty Images AsiaPac)

“This was a deceptive and cynical tactic to give the false appearance of diversity in writing and show ‘numbers’ supporting diversity while side-stepping the effort to recruit, develop and work with BIPOC writers he wrongly and offensively characterized as less capable,” Schultz alleged in the document, TheWrap reports. 

The lawsuit details a moment when one of the show’s story editors asserted that maintaining the production schedule would be challenging if BIPOC writers were responsible for writing the stories because BIPOC writers are inferior and inexperienced and called for hiring experienced non-BIPOC writers instead.

Schultz disclosed the alleged degradation of the program to Roker, hoping for his backing. However, declined to offer any support or uphold the integrity of the PBS-mandated DEI policy, according to the complaint. 

“I put nine years of my career into ‘Weather Hunters,’ a project I strongly believe in, with the goal of making a wonderfully crafted show for children to enjoy and learn from,” Schultz said in a statement

“I also believed, and still believe, that the project benefited by creating opportunities for the ‘new voices’ crucial in storytelling and that the ‘Weather Hunters’ production needed to live up to the ideals it was supposed to represent,” he added. 

According to the PBS news release, “Each 22-minute episode of WEATHER HUNTERS will explore kid-relatable STEM-based activities and themes, highlighting the wonder of weather within the broad field of science in terms that all learners can understand. Topics include observing and tracking weather patterns, exploring why weather changes can be different around the country and the world, and the connection between humans and the environment.”

READ MORE: Al Roker Praises Wife Deborah Roberts, Says He ‘Wouldn’t Be Alive’ Without Her

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